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Deadly Jackson Street Rail Crossing

 
 

 The wreckage, left, of the Indiana Railroad passenger bus involved in the January 9, 1938, train-bus crash lies in two sections on the east side of Jackson Street immediately north of the railroad tracks down into an embankment.

It was just after 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon January 9, 1938, when an eyewitness observed an Indiana Railroad city passenger bus en route downtown from North Anderson stopped about 10 feet before the railroad crossing.  A witness stated the driver looked both directions before driving onto the tracks and apparently did not see the approaching train.

It was the same rail crossing on Jackson Street immediately south of the bridge over White River that had claimed the lives of three Lapel youths only a month before.

After remaining stationary for about 15 seconds, the bus gradually pulled onto the tracks.  At that same moment, the eyewitness observed the engine of a rapidly approaching southbound passenger train looming over the bus not more than 35 to 40 feet from Jackson.

The ensuing collision was described simply as a yellow streak hurtling through the air with dust and papers flying in all directions.  The steam locomotive struck the bus a short distance behind the right entrance door and split the vehicle into two sections hurling both sections through the air and down a 15-foot embankment on the east side of Jackson Street.  Members of the train crew placed the time at nine minutes past three.

A Rush to Help

Almost immediately, people rushed to the aid of the victims.  Ten people, nine from Anderson and one from Pendleton, were on the ill-fated bus;  eight passengers, the driver, who had been operating a bus for about a month, and his relief driver.  Nine were thrown clear of the wreckage upon impact.
 
All the passengers riding on the side of the bus struck by the train died;  four were killed instantly and a fifth died later.  Two of the victims were sisters.  The other five were injured, some seriously, but all eventually recovered.  All Anderson ambulances were called into service quickly to care for the dead and injured.

Interviews Conducted

Members of the train crew reported the engine whistled at regular road crossing signal while coming across the railroad bridge over White River, the bell was ringing and the headlight was burning.  The engineer claimed the train was moving about fifty miles per hour as it neared the crossing but had slowed to about 35 or 40 miles per hour by the time it reached the crossing.  Witnesses corroborated the engineer's statement that the train's whistle was blowing loudly as it approached the intersection.

Interviews conducted by Madison County Coroner, Robert L. Armington, reveled the survivors had little recollection of whether they heard or saw the train.  When the driver, Fred Lytle, was able to be questioned all he could say was, "what hit me?"

Remedy Sought

A study conducted afterwards revealed that trains approaching from the north came into visibility only 20.1 seconds before reaching the crossing, a distance of about 1,200 feet.  It took a bus 13.2 seconds average time to cross the tracks after stopping at the approach.  Making a bad situation worse was the acute angle at the crossing formed by the tracks and street making observation of a southbound train difficult for vehicles headed south on Jackson.  Visibility was limited for vehicles traveling north on Jackson also as the crossing did not reveal approaching trains coming out of Anderson until they were nearly on top of the crossing. 

It was because of this potentially dangerous situation that The Herald more than once editorialized on the subject of danger at the crossing.  The editors repeatedly called for the installation of flasher signals citing railroad, highway, Public Service Commission, and Anderson city officials as not moving quickly enough to remedy the problem.

The automatic flasher signals were finally installed in March, 1938.  Until that time, the crossing was protected jointly with city police and railroad personnel acting as watchmen during the hours when all passenger and freight trains passed across Jackson Street.

In late January, Mayor Harry R. Baldwin signed a city ordinance limiting the speed of all steam and electric trains to 25 miles per hour within the corporate limits of Anderson.  It replaced an old city law enacted in 1868 which limited the speed of trains to six miles per hour within city limits, one obviously not enforced.

In mid-February, Pennsylvania Railroad officials told members of the City Council that two fast passenger trains running between Cincinnati and Chicago via Anderson may be routed through Fort Wayne unless the limitation of speed was revised.  A committee was formed to resolve the issue and keep the trains running through Anderson.

 
 

By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 

 

 
 

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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